Goodness of Fit Between Parent and Child

November 26, 2017

Goodness of Fit Between Parent and Child

No matter how much we love our children, their behaviors can be challenging at times. It takes a lot of energy to be a good parent. It is rarely an easy job, but children with difficult or hard-to-manage temperaments make the job an even bigger one. A child’s temperament, or style of behavior, is present at birth and rarely changes as a child moves into adulthood.

When a parent’s temperament is different from their child’s, it can sometimes cause friction in the parent/child relationship. This ‘goodness of fit’ between parent and child isn’t always in sync, but parents who have a keen awareness of their child’s temperamental traits are much more apt to respond in a way that helps, not hinders their child’s approach to problem solving.

Regularity:  Can you predict your child’s schedule of eating and sleeping?  Some children may be totally unpredictable and unable to establish a routine.  Others are very regular. 

Approach/withdrawal:  How does your child respond to a new situation or environment?  Some eagerly jump into new experiences and enjoy changes.  Others are very cautious and like to become thoroughly familiar by watching before interacting.  This may apply to all new experiences, any group activity, a visit to the doctor’s office, haircuts, and anyone’s greeting, including family members whom they haven’t seen for a while.

Adaptability: Does your child have difficulty adapting to changes?  This can be a continuous struggle for some children.  They don’t like changes and need extra transition time.  This can include large and small changes:  waking, eating, bathing, going to school or day care.

Sensitivity:  The child with low sensitivity isn’t bothered too much by falls, bruises, ear infections, or loud noises.  Children with high sensitivity can react negatively to noises, colors, bright lights, food tastes, textures of clothing, changes in temperature.  They can become easily over-stimulated, and may cry as a result.

Mood:  Is your child typically pleasant or negative?

Persistence/attention span:  Persistent children don’t give up easily in the face of frustration.  They will work for long periods to achieve a goal, such as getting their socks on or stringing beads.  Low-persistent children get frustrated easily and are unable to stick to a task if it is too challenging.

Distractibility:  How easily can your child be distracted?  Children who have high distractibility have a hard time finishing tasks but can be flexible.  Children with low distractibility can focus well in school and follow instructions.  However, they can get “locked” into an activity and not hear you when you call.  They may become frustrated if forced to change too soon.

Intensity:  How much energy does your child use in both her positive and negative behavior?  Some children don’t just cry, they wail.  They don’t just smile or laugh; they belly laugh.

So how can you help your child?

1.) Identify your child’s temperament traits.  Notice how they affect his behavior.

2.) Describe what you are observing to the child.  This helps her learn about her behavior style, how to handle it, and what you expect from her, “You don’t like new places.  You like to watch until you feel comfortable.”  You are not hungry, but you have to sit with us at the table for a few minutes and then go play.

3.) Identify your own temperament traits.  Notice how they affect your behavior.

4.) Consider whether your temperamental traits and those of your child fit together easily.  If not, recognize any difficulties which the differences may cause.  For example, a parent who has low sensitivity has difficulty being patient with her high sensitivity child who can’t tolerate the feel of the tags on his shirts.

5.) Avoid criticizing or labeling your child with words such as forgetful, wild, fussy, quitter, shy.

About the Author

Catherine Morrissey has 35 years of experience as an educator and holds a BS in Elementary Education and a Masters Degree in Early Childhood development, along with a Specialists degree in Administration. As the Curriculum Director of a public school district, Catherine oversees the curriculum and lesson planning for PreK-12. Catherine was a key member of the curriculum team at Kid Spa Austin.

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